Summer RV recreation in Arizona has taken a hard hit with devastating wildfires. With a number of national forests either completely or largely closed, thousands of designated and dispersed camping areas are closed. Closed are Coconino, Kaibab, Apache-Sitgreaves, Prescott, and Tonto National Forests. In the latter, some campgrounds along the outside border of the forest are still open, around Roosevelt and Apache lakes, and Bartlett Reservoir.
Some RVers who had planned long stays in Forest Service campgrounds have made other plans. CNN found Pete Vanderbilt in the Flagstaff Walmart parking lot; he was not there by choice, but was forced to evacuate the Coconino National Forest. “I was gonna camp for about six weeks out there and then the fire came in and that was it,” he said. “I’ve seen smoke. Lots of smoke, I mean it filled right up with smoke. The white wood ashes just filled the van. Filled everything.”
The lightning-caused fire closed campgrounds and forests, forced evacuations, and burned nearly 40,000 acres as of June 25.
Officials are warning scofflaws that sneaking into the forest could lead to some ugly consequences. If the fires don’t get you, having a mandatory federal court appearance, a $5,000 fine, and up to six months in prison is a high cost for a bit of camping. Check ahead on each individual Forest Service website.
But not only Arizona is on fire. There are currently 33 active large fires across the West. The biggest has scorched more than 175,000 acres in the canyons and valleys east of Phoenix.
Three wildfires in Oregon caused temporary closures Friday of westbound Highway 30 and westbound Interstate 84 temporarily in the Columbia River Gorge west of The Dalles, and troopers had ordered an evacuation notice for residents in the Rowena area.
Meanwhile, California waits. More than 3,270 fires have been reported in California this year, compared to 2,625 at this point in 2020, according to CALFIRE stats. Fires have burned 16,450 acres in 2021.
In Colorado, the lightning-sparked Oil Springs Fire south of Rangely had burned 12,707 acres as of Friday morning and was 5 percent contained.
Montana fire crews are dealing with a giant blaze south of Red Lodge. The Robertson Draw Fire has burned an estimated 29,601 acres south of Red Lodge since it was reported on June 13.
The fire season is underway in Idaho, too. The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise announced it was moving to “Preparedness Level 4” this week, which means the country is already experiencing significant wildland fire activity and more than half of the nation’s fire resources are being used.
A record-breaking heat wave across the West this week isn’t helping ease fire danger. Temperatures have soared into the triple digits in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Montana, where new wildfires are sparking weeks earlier than normal.
The number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a ten-year high, according to federal data, prompting warnings of a long, potentially dangerous summer. “We’re in for a long haul, I fear,” Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy said during a news conference Friday in La Canada Flintridge.